A Fathers’ Day Reading List for the New Year

When my own sons were young my partner gave me a copy of Patrimony by Philip Roth for father’s day. A little while later I came across an unexpected book by ecological anthropologist Ben Orlove, In my Father’s Study. These are books that have stayed with me.

The first is a tale of a son’s journey with a father at the end of his life.

The second is a story of a son coming to learn about his father, to come to an adult appreciation of him, after the father’s death.  It’s a touching memoire.  I’ve used it a few times in my teaching but my 20/30-something students respond to it rather differently than I. For them it is simply one more book on a reading list while for me it led me to think about my life as a father and as a son.

I’ve spent a great many hours with my own father. As a child following him around as he worked on his fishing boat. As a young adult working with him on the same boat. And later in life visiting with him, keeping each other company sometimes talking about the past, often about his health, and occasionally about my own work. Coming across Orlove’s book, almost by accident, has led me to gather over the decades an eclectic little library of books reflecting upon fathers and sons. Here, in sense of order, is a selection of my favourites.

  • In My Father’s Study. Ben Orlove. U.Iowa Press. 1995
  • A Life in the Bush: lessons from my father. Roy MacGregor. Viking, 1999. A loving tale of a northern Ontario father by one of Canada’s favourite journalists.
  • Waterline: of fathers, sons, and boats. Joe Soucheray. David R.  Godin, Publisher. 1996(1989). A memoire about restoring a boat, but its far more than that.
  • For Joshua. Richard Wagamese. Anchor Canada. 2003(2002).
  • To See Every Bird on Earth: a father, a son, a lifelong obsession. Dan Koeppel. Plume. 2006.
  • Lost in America. Sherwin Nuland. Vintage. 2004.
  • Patrimony. Phillip Roth. Touchstone. 2001.
  • My Father’s Wars. Alisse Waterston. 2013.
  • Fatherless. Keith Maillard. 2019.

There are more – but this is more than enough for a start.



Get to Know Your Colleague Through Writing

This is a project in learning about our colleagues through our writing. Each of the profiles that I write are based upon articles shared with me by colleagues.  Each participant has been asked to share one to three blog posts, journal articles or book chapters that they have written.  Participants might provide an older piece, or something more recent.  The criteria being used is that these are pieces that they feel shows the nature and scope of their work and/or focuses on some aspect of their work they you would like others to pay attention to.

I am starting this project with a selection of three of my own articles.  The first two articles that speak to the nature of my current work over the last few years. The third piece is an older one  that reflects a longstanding interest published while I was a graduate student.

  1. Putting Words into Action: Negotiating Collaborative Research in Gitxaała.  Canadian Journal of Native Education.   Volume 28, 2004, Numbers 1/2. http://www.ecoknow.ca/journal/menzies.pdf
  2. “Sea Legs: Learning to Labour on the Water.” Anthropology of Work Review. 2019. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/335400384_Sea_Legs_Learning_to_Labor_on_the_Water
  3. “Between the Stateroom and the Foc’s’cle: Everyday Forms of Class Struggle Aboard a Commercial Fishboat,” NEXUS: Vol. 8:1. 1990.  https://journals.mcmaster.ca/nexus/article/view/87 

Much of my career at UBC has focussed on Indigenous reserach, primarily collaborative project with my home community of Gitxaała. This early paper highlights methodological concerns and documents the early stages of a formal UBC/Gitxaała collaboration in research.  Subsequent papers explored indigenous labour history, traditional ecological knowledge, and whitestream society’s response to Indigenous authority and sovereignty.  Bracketing and underlying my Indigenous focused research has been a concern with labour processes, struggle, and class formation. “Sea Legs” draws on an autoethnographic method to examine how notions of masculinity are enmeshed in become a fisherman. “Between the Stateroom and the Foc’s’cle” is one of my earliest papers and it explores the micro-structures of class struggle on a commercial fishing boat drawn from my personal experience.

My writing has always involved a personal aspect where I draw from my direct experience, not simply as an ethnographer, but as a participant. By participant I mean that I do in fact draw from my own life’s experiences to guide and inform my scholarly work.  I am interested in what motivates and constrains us as people, not as a simply matter of curiosity, but becuase I very much would like to change our world to remove the inequities of class, gender, and colonialism (etc).

Anthropology has tended to study the other to understand self.  It seems to me that we would do a better job understanding ourselves if we were more often the subject of our own anthropological gaze.


Readers are invited to join in by sending examples of their writing to me and I will write blog post based upon them. Or, even better, send me a blog post modelled after my own above for publication here.



The Truth About Grades

Grades are a ranking system. Grades do not measure some empirical achievement; there are a relative achievement determined by a judge (with whom all judged take issue with). Grades are an imperfect measure of learning. They capture some of what one learns. They often leave out more.

Educational ideology, from the right to the left, considers assessment at some level to be a criteria referenced, neutral process. The rhetoric exhorts each and every graded one to do more. The sentiment is that with just the right combination of grit, perseverance, hard work and skill, you too can get the A.

Grades, however, do not measure excellence. They allocate resources. They divide. They are what makes this world of the student every bit as real as the world of work for pay. Grades work against cooperation; they undermine solidarity. They pit one student against the other as grades are a limited resource and one person’s gain means someone else’s loss. Immediately upon handing out a sheet of grades each honest instructor knows in their heart of heart that the honeymoon is over. We can read it in the recipients very body language.

So what’s the point of bringing it up? We all know this truth in one way or another?  Grades are a definitive statement of the underlying structural relationship that guides human interactions for at least the past two hundred years wherein market mechanisms have driven valuations of individual worth and resource allocation. The point of bring up grades us that as long as one labours under the misconception that grades measure some innate ability of something that is theoretical obtainable by everyone most of us will remain unhappy; but more importantly we will remain without the capacity to really do anything about it.

Key Lessons About Grades

  • Grades are not arbitrary, they are normative.
  • Grades are an intrinsic aspect of capitalist society.
  • Grades are an imperfect measure of learning.

What Can One Do?

  • Recognize the reality of the conditions of your work.
  • Work to adapt to it (without compromising principles) and to change it.

I once heard the Canadian singer and television host Tommy Hunter in an interview say “the mechanic down the street is a better musician than I am. The difference is I’m a better businessman.”  Similar things could be said about getting grades. Grades don’t necessarily go to the ‘best’ student, they go to the person who is (in Hunter’s words) the best business person. It’s about figuring out what one needs to do.

Some of us have innate skills.   These skills lead to nowhere without hard work and good timing. They also rely upon figuring out the optimum labour investment to output. There is a nice marxist concept, socially necessary labour time, that I suggest is relevant here.  Put simply, “socially necessary labour time is the amount of labour time performed by a worker of average skill and productivity, working with tools of the average productive potential, to produce a given commodity.” That means a student who invests a maximum effort into a paper shouldn’t expect a maximum grade.  It’s not how much effort one puts in, it is what kind of effort. For some taking more time might produce an average output. For other students a sub-average input might yield a superior output. The quality of the output then (as measured in grades) is not related to the time invested by a student.

It is important to recognize that there are many differnt paths that lead from one’s education. It is as though one is standing at the center of a garden with paths radiating out from in many directions. You are, in this moment, free to choose. Choice is power, but remember some paths are less forgiving than others. What is most important for you as a learner? mastery of a skill, learning something transformative, or accumulating a grade?

Through out my own life I have tended to focus on my learning, not the grade. This has consequences. Faced with an assignment I may not like, appreciate, or value, I would select something differnt, something that would give me a platform to contribute and allow me to exercise my voice. I would advise something similar to learners more intersted in learning than accumulating grades. Put a small piece of yourself into the work, but remember the work is not you, nor is it a measure of you. It is merely something you did one day.

Your task, no matter what you think or feel it is, is not todo a better paper next time. It is to learn, to develop, to explore. The paper is secondary. The mark will be forgotten But, what you take up as yours, what you take as your experience and knowledge will outlast any grade.